In the Baptist family of which I am a part, much of the latest news has focused on Paige Patterson — one of the architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” and, until recently, the president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — a position from which he was recently fired for mishandling allegations of abuse, and for earlier statements on women, abuse, and divorce. For today, I have no desire to debate the merits (or lack thereof) of the aforementioned “resurgence” — nor am I attempting to weigh-in on the issues that have led to Dr. Patterson’s dismissal. Instead, I share humbly this morning my discomfort with the reactions of some of my friends — many of whom have been wounded deeply by events in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last 30-plus years — and who are now rejoicing that “Justice has been served.”
It’s timely, perhaps, that in today’s Daily Office, there are two psalms proscribed: Psalm 31 for the morning, and Psalm 35 for the evening: Both are prayers in which the psalmist cries out, asking God to provide justice and to vindicate him over those who have persecuted him. And it’s worth noting— as my preparation for an upcoming sermon series on the Book of Revelation has reminded me — that one of the great promises of our faith is that God will, in fact, set the world to rights and provide justice for those who have been denied it.
But until God brings this day of reckoning, I’m reminded, too, that justice is often “in the eye of the beholder.” Our conceptions of justice are just that: our conceptions. And so, if you look at the two psalms assigned for today, you can imagine them being prayed by those who feel they were treated unfairly by Patterson’s comments and denominational machinations — or by Patterson himself. In the end, we all stand guilty in the eyes of the Righteous Judge; and therefore, perhaps we would do well not to rejoice that someone has been “served justice” — but to rejoice that there’s One who can and will provide justice (and with a degree of wisdom and grace far beyond that of which we ourselves are capable).
What’s more, when situations like this arise (and especially when they involve disagreements and disputes within the Body of Christ) I feel more and more aware of how we can feel like we’re scoring points in our denominational and theological skirmishes — when what’s really happening is that we’re demonstrating to the world yet again how poorly we display the transformation that we claim our Lord and Savior can give.
I grieve the pain and division that have plagued my Baptist family. And I grieve the attitudes and treatment under which many of my Baptist sisters have suffered. And to the extent that Dr. Patterson has been involved in either or both of these situations, I trust that God will judge with the wisdom and grace of which only He is capable. But perhaps most of all, I grieve the fact — that in a world so desperately in need of healing — there is so much brokenness: in the world itself…in my Baptist family…in Dr. Patterson…and in me.
“Look,” Jesus says, “I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).
“Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).